Denniston Appeal in the Environment Court

15 Nov 2012

 We’re halfway through our legal appeal against the 190ha open-cast coal mine on the West Coast’s wonderful Denniston Plateau.

So far the Environment Court has heard from the mining company, ecologists, economists, council representatives, wildlife photographer Rod Morris and Forest & Bird’s own Debs Martin.

Australian-owned Bathurst Resources has been fighting every step of the way, and will continue to do so during the hearing’s final two weeks in court, which commence the last week of November.

In August 2011, Bathurst Resources gained  consents from West Coast councils to turn 190ha of the plateau into an open-cast coal mine.

Forest & Bird has argued from the beginning that Denniston is a unique landscape, formed under unusual conditions over millions of years. Its wildlife and ecological make up are like no other, and as public conservation land it should be protected by law.

Unusually for Forest & Bird, we’ve also tackled the issue on an economic front. Bathurst’s economist initially estimated the project’s net present value was $467m. But our economist Peter Clough, from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, argued the figures were too high, based on an improbably “optimistic price” of US$240 per tonne  and also failing to recognise that the vast majority of the profit would go offshore.

The two economists eventually agreed on a coal price between US$160 and US$200 a tonne, which would result in much more modest gains. Bathurst’s economist concluded the benefits would range between approximately $10 million and $24 million per annum.

Peter said the project would have an overall benefit of about $34 million through wages. All benefits above this related to the profitability of the mine, which is dependent on the amount of coal mined, the coal price and the exchange rate.

There were downsides too, as the increase of short-term employment would actually boost house prices on the ground.

Debs, who has been the name and face of our Denniston campaign, has been blown away by the amount of support from our members and the wider public. We’ve had emails of support and met people all over the country who have undertaken their own public awareness initiatives.

Some supporters have even attended the hearing in Christchurch.

“It's been wonderful to have the support in the court room. It's so valuable and it gives us a real morale boost," Debs said.

The hearing is scheduled to finish 7 December, and a decision is not expected to be reached until the second quarter of the year.